Lawsuit over access to fish Little Juniata River resolved

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Fishing preserve entrepreneur Donny Beaver has dropped his court case against state agencies, thus closing the book on a lengthy battle over the public's right to fish the Little Juniata River, one of the state's most coveted trout waters.

In a letter to Commonwealth Court dated Monday, Mr. Beaver's attorneys indicated that he would drop his challenge to a ruling handed down a year ago by Huntingdon County Common Pleas Judge Stewart Kurtz, stating that the Little Juniata is navigable and open to the public.

Mr. Beaver had claimed that a section of the river was private and could be fished only by members of his club.

Mr. Beaver's appeal was tentatively scheduled to be heard in April.

"This sets precedence on the [Little Juniata]," said Dennis Whitaker of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and lead attorney for the state. "It prevents Beaver from making future legal challenges on the Little J, and discourages anyone else from doing the same thing, since case law is pretty clear that if any part of the river is navigable, the whole river is navigable."

Mr. Beaver's attorney, Douglas Y. Christian, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Discontinuing the appeal keeps Judge Kurtz's decision legally binding only on the Little Juniata, according to John D. Echeverria, executive director of the Georgetown Environmental Law and Policy Institute at Georgetown University.

"Beaver has prevented the case from turning into legal precedent that would have binding effect across the state," he said, "although it nonetheless represents a persuasive authority with regard to other cases."

In 2003, the DEP, the Fish and Boat Commission, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Spruce Creek fishing guide Allan Bright sued Mr. Beaver and his Spring Ridge Club for advertising a 1.3-mile section of the river as private, and chasing non-club members from the water. The state won its case in June 2006, by proving that the river was used historically as a public highway.

Still unresolved is Mr. Bright's damage claim against Mr. Beaver and the club for lost business, although Mr. Bright's attorney, Stan Stein, said that case will now move forward.

"One would have to assume that Beaver is more willing to settle than he would have been before," he said. "Regardless, we are going to pursue Allan's claim for damages."

Deborah Weisberg is a freelance writer.


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